I have recently discovered the immense joy of nature documentaries on Netflix. I had never seen Planet Earth and it turned out that all the hype was correct. It is an amazing series. But it’s really just the beginning. Between National Geographic, The Nature Channel and the BBC there are an incredible number of shows out there. And a lot of ecosystems on Earth that I knew little or nothing about. However, the show I was most intrigued by was Ocean Giants from the BBC. It has the amazing footage of the whales and sharks and ocean creatures that I’ve come to expect.
It also has a lot of information about the scientific research being done to understand these animals better. I always knew dolphins were smart, but I didn’t know that they would understand that a mirror showed them a reflection of themselves. And I find it fascinating that the dolphins would keep coming back to look. Whales in the protected areas in Baja California interact with humans in boats. They seem to go out of their way to interact and enjoy it. In the past they were seen as killers because of attacks on whaling boats. They seem to have forgiven or forgotten now. Ocean Giants really gave me a sense of the personalities of these beautiful ocean creatures. I hope all this research continues an we can better understand and help them as their environment changes.
I attended a lecture the other day at the New England Aquarium. It was an event put on by Women Working for Oceans, which I have joined. It was on a subject I knew very little about – ocean noise pollution. Scott Kraus, who works at the aquarium, spoke about studies done on right whales that show their stress levels go up with increased ocean noise. Chronic stress causes reduced reproduction rates and lower immunity. The key speaker of the day was Christopher Clark, who works at Cornell and has done a lot of research on the noise in the ocean. As early as the 1960s it was discovered just how far noise travels, especially low frequencies. An explosion off the coast of Perth, Australia was heard on the east coast of the United States. Even small explosions travel for hundreds of miles. Clark kept talking about how the scale is different when it comes to the oceans and large ocean animals like whales. Noise travels different, whales move around a huge area of the ocean.
As far as we know, all marine mammals make noise and hear noise. It is used as a social network among a species, and also for finding food. The noise of a large cargo ship can drown out all the noise made by the animals they are cut off from each other and their ability to hunt. Below, the small dots are whales and large splotches with red centers are ships. (This gif was shown as part of the presentation.)
Source: National Oceanic Partnership Program via NPR
While recent oil drilling off the east coast has been banned, exploration for oil with seismic air guns is still going ahead. I was glad to see representatives of both of my state senators there to hear about this issue. Technology also exists to make engines quieter, but little is being done. This is an environmental issue that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention or press.